These tiny flat oval edible oil-rich seeds come from the sesame plant. The largest producers of sesame seeds are China, India and Africa. Sesame seeds come in a variety of colors ranging from cream, yellow, red and black; with the white and black varieties being the most widely used. The famous phrase “open sesame” comes from observing the sesame pod which expands open as it matures.
Sesame seeds are used extensively in cuisines all over the world to add a rich nutty flavor and texture to breads, bagels, buns, muffins, and crackers; or as a garnish on stir-fries, sushi, salads, stir-fries, curries, and casseroles. Sesame seeds are used to make condiments such as Japanese gomasio, Egyption dukkah, and Indian Milakai Podi.
The pale white sesame seeds are more widely used in Western and Middle Eastern dishes, whereas the black sesame seeds seem to be favored by the Indians and Japanese.
Sesame seeds are one of the most versatile foods, lending themselves beautifully to sweet or savory flavorings. They are exquisite blended with honey and other sweeteners for cookies, biscuits slices and candies. Sweet sesame paste is exquisite as a filling in pastries and pies; and sesame seed butter or tahini is phenomenal in ice creams, puddings, and cakes, as well as a principle ingredient in the ever popular hummus.
Try slathering some tahini on a rice cake for a power snack. Tahini, lemon juice and garlic makes a sensational dip or salad dressing. Or try sprinkling some sesame seeds over steamed vegetables. I like to make a lot of raw sesame seed bars for nutritional snacks. Middle Eastern and Asian desserts use sesame seeds a lot. A good piece of Halvah (a mixture of sesame seeds and honey) is absolutely delicious; as is a good black sesame Japanese sesame ice cream. The ladies of ancient Babylon would eat this as a beauty elixir, and Roman soldiers believed it would promote strength for battle.
Sesame seeds are incredibly rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, Vitamin B and E; as well as phytooestrogens such as lignans that regulate hormone levels in women, and have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. They have also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure; assist with heart and bone health; Sesame seeds are like flaxseeds, in that their nutrients are more easily available when ground up. Make some home made tahini and slather it on a vegetable stick every day as a snack and you are good to go!
Sesame seeds are available hulled and unhulled (sometimes called tan or dark). I always purchase them hulled, in order to get the goodness of the raw seed without the oxalates that render them difficult to digest. Un-hulled sesame seeds have a longer shelf life.
But all sesame seeds are prone to rancidity and should be stored in the fridge in a sealed glass container and consumed within a few months. Another important thing to mention about sesame seeds is that contain high amounts of phytic acid, which is an anti-nutrient which retards digestion.
They should always be soaked and dehydrated before consumption. This is why I always make my own tahini from soaked sesame seeds.
Those of you with food allergies, make sure you are individually tested for sesame seeds. Allergies to sesame seeds appear to be on the rise.